Author: Frank N. Wilner

Hedlund Confirmed to STB

By unanimous consent, Democrat Karen J. Hedlund was confirmed by the Senate late Dec. 16 to the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB). She succeeds Republican Ann D. Begeman, whose second term had expired in 2020 and who has been serving out a statutory maximum one-year holdover period. STB members are limited to two five-year maximum terms, with a one-year holdover if a successor has not been Senate-confirmed.

Reciprocal Switch Peril Grows

No two words torment railroad executives and their investors more than “reciprocal switching”—a potential Surface Transportation Board (STB) decree that a railroad with sole physical access to a shipper facility transfer (switch) a shipper’s cars to a junction point with a second (competing) railroad. The second railroad pays a compensatory per-car switching fee whose reasonableness is determined by the STB.

Congress, Unions Can Cure Rail Worker Shortage

Railroads, including Amtrak, are hiring, but applicants are scarce. The Washington Post reports Amtrak is short 1,500 workers, and may be forced to eliminate some service, trim some daily long-distance trains to three times weekly, and delay inauguration of new routes. Already, Amtrak is operating at 80% of its pre-pandemic schedule.

Deirdre Hamilton

Confirmed: Hamilton Joins NMB

The Senate on Dec. 7 confirmed Democrat Deirdre Hamilton as a member of the National Mediation Board, succeeding Republican Kyle Fortson, whose first term expired, and shifting the three-member agency to a Democratic majority.

A ‘Gow’ Infused STB Chairman

Years ago, as general counsel to the Illinois Racing Commission, Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairperson Martin J. Oberman chased the “gow”—jockey-speak for opium used illegally to improve race horse performance. These days, the 76-year-old Oberman is himself infused with a legal form of gow: an unabated resolve to use his regulatory cudgel to splinter railroad market power.

NMB Uncertainty Affects Rails, Labor

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions last week favorably reported the nominations by President Joe Biden of Democrats Linda Puchala and Deirdre Hamilton, and Republican Gerald W. (Trey) Fauth III, to the three-member National Mediation Board, which administers the Railway Labor Act (RLA). Puchala and Fauth are renominees.

Labor Leaders Putting Members’ Lives at Risk

Call it the Twilight Zone of reality when three rail labor unions embrace the convictions of extreme-right public figures Tucker Carlson (Fox News), Republican Governors Greg Abbott (Texas) and Ron DeSantis (Florida), and Republican Senators Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Kentucky) and oppose vaccine mandates intended to protect society against the deadly COVID-19 virus and its Delta variant.

More delay for STB nominee

Karen J. Hedlund’s quest to be confirmed to the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB) and give Chairman Martin J. Oberman a Democratic majority hit another speed bump Oct. 6 when Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) objected to Hedlund’s Senate floor confirmation.